EPA administrator talks with governors in Colorado Springs about plan to cut power plant emissions

June 10, 2014 Updated: June 10, 2014 at 8:34 pm

The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency touted a new plan to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent across the nation to a group of 10 Western governors Tuesday in Colorado Springs.

"They are some of the states that are really feeling some of the brunt of the changing climate most dramatically with wildfires, floods and droughts and all of those challenges," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said during the annual meeting of the Western Governors' Association at The Broadmoor.

McCarthy spent two hours talking primarily about the controversial new plan to help the nation lower carbon dioxide emissions by moving toward alternative energy sources.

"We put a plan out that was very respectful of states and allows states to develop their own plans and work through these issues," McCarthy said. "They all seem very amenable to working with us and to continuing to roll up their sleeves to see where we go from here."

Colorado's Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said the state has already made progress reducing emissions, including legislation that requires investor-owned utilities to use 30 percent renewable energy by 2030, and a bill last year required large cooperative utility companies to hit 20 percent by 2030.

In a roundtable discussion with three other governors about the proposed standards, Hickenlooper said that even if climate change isn't real, it makes sense to invest money and resources toward protecting against potential impacts of harmful emissions.

Not every governor shared his enthusiasm.

Wyoming governor Matt Mead, a Republican, said he's worried about the adverse consequences the new standards will have on the coal industry and states that rely heavily on coal for power.

"We are the largest coal-producing state, about 400 million tons a year, and we also have the lowest electricity costs. We also have the cleanest air in the country," Mead said. "Coal is certainly an affordable energy source. It produces the most electricity of any energy source in this country. It is the fastest growing energy source."

Mead said he knows everyone has a common interest in reducing pollution, but the focus should be in improving technology.

It's still too early to know how the proposed standards will impact the Martin Drake Power Plant in downtown Colorado Springs. The plant was damaged in a fire last month and conversations have been occurring for years about whether the utility should take the plant offline.

McCarthy said the protection for areas dependent on coal is that each state will be making its own policy.

"There is no question that if you look at the rule, we are projecting that coal will remain a significant part of the energy mix," McCarthy said. "That doesn't mean that individual facilities that are uncompetitive today will remain uncompetitive moving forward. There's a lot of change in the industry."

She said there are some allowances in the rules regarding the age of the facility and whether there has been a recent investment.

Colorado Springs recently spent millions installing new scrubbers at the Drake plant to try and reduce emissions, and in Pueblo the Comanche 3 coal fired power plant came on line in 2010.

McCarthy said the new standards were released on Monday last week, and by last Wednesday morning, there were more than 48,000 comments.

"There's a lot of people interested in this," she said. "I think it will be a rigorous discussion."

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